If you’re in need of a shot of heady inspiration founded by timeless wisdom, Neil Gaimon delivers a truly captivating speech to the University of the 2012 Arts Class -and we get the tremendous benefit of hearing it, too.
The landscaping of business is changing, we know this. Much of what Neil has to offer are the guidelines I set for myself long ago. We’re both rebels and our approach to life shows that. If you’re a new grad or 20 years into your career, Neil Gaiman will help guide you with relevance from his world no matter where you are in your life map.
Listening to Neil was helpful to me and now -whether he likes this or not – he’s my new secret mentor.
I’m harboring secret plans and listening to Neil today has convinced me that I need to set these plans in motion. I know that the flux of where and how I’m able to exchange goods for money continues to change. What I know today may not be entirely true tomorrow -and that’s tough for me to swallow. So I must keep an open mind no matter how difficult days may be.
Additionally, this is what I do know…
Work Freelance or Part-Time
The idea of someone else paying for your health insurance may sound appealing, but think of the freedom you’re giving up just to sit in a cubicle converting your life’s experience into an empty shell. Have 2 part-time jobs instead of one full time job. This will lend you the wisdom and experience and will quickly enrich your business opportunities.
For many years, I was vexed by the notion that not having a full time job -being a temp or contractor- prevented me from having a career. Little did I realize that hopping from creating a series of flower greeting cards to sell at art shows, drawing my first ink bunny, being a department store display artist, being an accessories buyer, to publishing software manuals and learning Web design was really the several hats I needed to run a business.
All of these jobs were all done either on the side, as a freelancer, a temporary/contract employee. None of them were permanent full-time gigs. Sure, I made very little money, but that was better than starving on ego. I thank Buddha that I was extremely healthy and didn’t (read: couldn’t) buy my own health insurance until 10 years later.
Here is what I see from my experiences:
- Flower greeting cards: A product derived from talent
- Waitress: Serving customers from beginning to end
- Ink Bunny: Freelancing & Licensing
- Department Store Display: Interior Design for Retail Layout & Customer Experience; Posters for Buzz and Direction
- Accessories Buyer: Tastemaker and Personal Shopper for Customers
- Publishing: Designing books and manuals for customer reference and learning
- HTML: Designing architecture and customer experience online for learning and buying
So, treat your business like you would as you sought jobs as a freelancer. Continue to market to your target audience, but the way you do may change daily.
Act Like a Consultant
If you have many part-time experiences or you find yourself punching the clock for the man, arrive to the meetings with the position as consultant. You bring to the table your experience, wisdom, and vision and that’s what they’re paying you for.
If you’re not sure you can do it, channel someone you know and do it anyway. Pretend you’re someone who can do it.
I know how many times I lacked conviction in my own talent and work. Someone once told me in high school to channel noble people I most admired if I lacked courage or self-confidence. So I found upper classmen, teachers, public servants, even characters from books and TV to cultivate my personality. It’s the whole, “What would Rocky and Bullwinkle do?” position.
The only way you can move through your trepidation and hesitation, is to set your stage and channel the multitudes of people to define your persona. This helps even when you do become secure because sometimes one just needs a push of bravado to exhibit cool confidence.
I did this in a bar once. I created a scene. I confronted my cheating ex-husband and layed down the law in no uncertain terms to both he and his tramp girlfriend. The whole bar was quiet. I turned on my heel and confidently strode out. And I got a whistle.
Damn that felt great.
I would not have done it if I hadn’t channelled a couple of fictional characters.
Tell me: Who is your secret go-to persona?
Eschew Assumptions and Perceptions
You’re the most important person in your life. If you allow others to dictate how to lead your life, then you become their prisoner. If you find yourself saying, “My mother wouldn’t be happy if I lead a career in the arts” or “My boyfriend wants to get married this Summer and I would like to take a breather between school and job” you may need to confront the assumption and have a discussion. A gentle talk needs to take place that outlines expectations, assumptions, and boundaries.
After I spent 4+ years in school earning my fine arts degree, I abandoned art. Can you believe it? Well, not really. But when I started looking for a job on Black Monday (October 1987) in Chicago, I realized that times were shifting. Radically shifting. Companies were no longer going to cradle me until retirement and offer me a pension. This economic flux did nasty things to people.
My parents were just as dumbfounded about the lack of career opportunities set before me as I was. Unfortunately, my worth (based on my mother’s perception) was based on the money I made –which was none. This typified the relationship I had with her -an ugly mass of neuroses, coupled with resentment and schadenfreude. It was then I realized the guy I had been dating in college, eventually turned depraved and psycho.
Fighting with their demanding assumptions made me feel trapped in my own walking death camp. Bewildered by their constant undermining cuts as a creative made me feel that art didn’t matter to the world. Life didn’t have to be so hard. It wasn’t until I accepted that my life was too precious to waste on unhealthy relationships that I packed my car and moved South.
Eventually, I did emancipate myself from my family. It was very hard and still is -specially on Mother’s Day and my birthday. But weighing the freedom of living my life without being accused of crimes I didn’t commit or being asked to do things I know are morally wrong is worth far more than getting a birthday card with strings attached. Believe me, I would love nothing more than to have a mom who loves her children.
This brings me to…
The World Needs You
The world needs your perspective. Your voice and your vision is worthy. Regardless of unsupportive parents, idiot bosses, or resentful mates, you must find a way to share your voice.
That means if you want to draw comics based on a hairdresser who knows who shot JFK, do it. If you want to design steampunk corsets for a local film crew, do it. Perhaps you want to create a foundation for children in the arts, do it. Remember, no one can do what you can do because your work is worthwhile
Collect Different Baskets
You know the adage, “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket?” I change out the baskets.
There are many who rely on just one and when the bottom drops out, you’ve got spoiled eggs. Some optimists might say that you could create scrambled eggs with the fallen but sometimes, you just can’t. Sunny side up, they taunt you as they look up at you in the dirt. It’s not like they can be picked up, washed off, and thrown on the grill hoping the fire will kill anything that attached itself.
Gone. No 5 second rules here. The best you can do is take a torch and bake them right there on the ground. They become good eats for another species –so, just walk away.
Next time, get three baskets and diversify your talents. When those 3 are working harmoniously, get 3 more and so on.
Rules and Assumptions are beginning to disintegrate in real life (IRL). Publishing houses are eroding because they haven’t created an answer to online applications that allow us to publish our own art and books. Same with recording labels. The interwebs is democratizing the way we’re getting seen. The gatekeepers are leaving the gates so now you can make up your own rules.
Isn’t that liberating?
Aside from having the prerequisite Web site and internet presence, here’s a venue where I’m beginning to reintegrate myself: Juried Art Shows. I participated in a few when I was in college and then dropped them to find a real job (at the coercion of my parents and boyfriend). Twenty five years later, I am building a new basket to include the lot. It’s an opportunity to expose new and current work to a customer base who hasn’t yet met me. Those that do discover me in their backyard and love me, will help me build my following. To continue the love fest, I must travel like a gypsy from one approved art fair to another cultivating my cabal.
On the flip side, I must say that I am not happy with the tedious rules: You must have a white tent, jewelry must be a separate application, photos must all have the same gradient background, just because you were juried into the show last year does not give you privilege to participate this year. Gah! These prosaic terms are really beginning to chap my hide. This is where I want to set my devious plans in motion.
I’m going to become the disruptor. I know that I expect to ruffle many feathers in this process, but I cannot allow cold weather, self-inflicting rules, or any other perceived assumptions to stifle my income or legacy. It would be much like punching a clock for the man but at the mercy of mother nature.
Make every moment count.
Gaimen says, “The harder you work, the wiser you work, the luckier you will be.” My favorite quote “Luck favors the prepared” is almost true. Some happen upon dumb luck and don’t know what to do with it when it bites them.
It’s the small moments, consecutive moments that build into a novel experience. Whether in skill or in negotiations, these moment will construct into a monument of wisdom that you can tap as needed. Those moments are precious and need to be recorded and saved. When your personal monument of experience grows, so too will your opportunity of luck. It’s at this time you’ll know you can wield it to your favor, albeit only briefly.
Mistakes & Expectations
Mistakes are useful. You will make them, no doubt about it. Embrace them. I look at life as one mistake after another with a spattering of successes. When I invert my expectations, life looks a bit sweeter.
What would you do if you didn’t get into the school of your choice? Or didn’t make the grades that you expected at mid-term? Regularly, you have to step back from your plans and look for potential stumbling blocks that could invisbily set you up for failure.
Too much classwork on your schedule? Who knew there was so much lab time required? Ugh! Or weighing practice time on the trumpet conflicted with the illustrations that needed to be done for the 8am studio tomorrow -they’re not going to draw themselves!
It’s okay to say no to one of those in order to succeed in the other.
Long ago, I had a dear classmate who committed suicide because her mid-term grades didn’t match her perceived expectations. Her parents loved her unconditionally and unfortunately, she didn’t recognize the strong support system she had.
If you’re surrounded by people who support you no matter how many mistakes you’ve make or how many dreams you’ve chased, you’ve got it made. Those are people who dearly love you, ask you to dinner, and want to know how they can help you get to the next stepping stone. That kind of love and trust helps build our tribe and strengthens each other along the way.
If these people exist in your life, please remember to acknowledge them. We wouldn’t here if it weren’t for them.
Handpick Your Family
If you don’t feel that you’ve got that support system, cultivate one. Find like-minded creative people who are doing interesting things and ask to become an apprentice. Not to steal their ideas or become a tampon to your emotional needs (that’s what we pay therapists for), but to develop your own shorthand characters that become your family, related or not.
Handpicked family are the best kind that you can rely on when you’re jazzed about making art and need extra perspectives for art direction, discovering ska for the first time and need help understanding the rhythms or even when you need help balancing your own checkbook.
For me, being content and happy is cultivated from the inside out -not carved pathologically by the perceptions of others. I’m doing what I love doing and I found the perfect mate for me. Together we’re crafting a way to keep life happy for us, I hope you are too. We’re human dammit, not robots, and that’s what makes us interesting.
Now, I’m off to make some good art.
Here’s to Cultivating Your Creative Independence!